Every day my inbox contains email queries from people who love big cats and have witnessed or heard about big cats and/or cubs being exploited, neglected or abused. They plead for me to help the cats.
Earlier this month I was contacted by a Big Cat Rescue supporter informing me of a law firm based in Orlando, Florida using a white tiger in their marketing materials. She was very upset that the law firm was running a television commercial showing one of their lawyers sitting in a room near a full-grown white tiger on a couch! I researched the law firm online and quickly found that the firm’s website and Facebook page also contained images of a white tiger on a couch next to a lawyer.
Raising Awareness for Hidden Animal Abuse
While you may think a lawyer sitting next to a huge tiger is surprising (not to mention dangerous), I see crazy stuff like this involving big cats every day. What DID surprise me was that the law firm is only about an hour from Big Cat Rescue and, even though it appeared the firm has been using the white tiger images since 2013, this was the first I had heard of it.
In contrast, as soon as Justin Bieber or a Kardashian poses with a big cat or cub, my inbox is flooded with concerned emails. How did a law firm in my neck of the woods get away with exploiting a white tiger for PR shock value for three years before I got wind of it? Guess I’ll never know.
As Director of Public Relations at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, my primary job (although every staff member at the sanctuary wears numerous hats) is educating businesses, fairs, shopping malls, restaurants, other venues and the general public about the issues facing captive big cats and cubs in this country and beyond.
Have you visited a roadside zoo and can’t get the image of a tiger pacing in a tiny cage with no water bowl in 100-degree weather out of your head? Contact me and I’ll walk you through how to file a complaint with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Saw a friend’s Facebook post showing her holding a tiger cub? Contact me and I’ll send you links to share with your friend that explain why cub petting schemes are cruel. Attended your state fair and saw an exhibit charging visitors $20 to hold a baby tiger? Contact me and I’ll call the fair’s General Manager and may ask our Big Cat Rescue’s supporters (2.2 million Facebook fans alone) to take action. Heard that a circus with a tiger act is heading to your hometown and want to know how to stop it? Contact me and I’ll give you pointers on how to contact the venue hosting the circus and how to organize a peaceful protest when the circus arrives. You get the picture of what my days are like.
Lawyers and White Tigers
So back to the law firm in Orlando. The firm is called Trial Professionals and it turns out they have many offices throughout Florida. I called their Orlando office and asked who the lawyer was in the photos with the white tiger cub; I was informed his name is Piercy Stakelum. I asked to speak with Mr. Stakelum but he was unavailable. I then asked for his email.
I sent Mr. Stakelum a polite email explaining my concerns about the law firm’s use of a white tiger in their television commercial and online marketing. I initially gave him the benefit of the doubt, assuming he actually cared about animals but hadn’t been educated to understand that posing with a big cat is cruel and sends the wrong message that his business thinks it’s okay to use and exploit big cats for the PR shock value. I suggested that using a real tiger was hurting rather than helping the firm’s marketing efforts. Lastly, I clearly stated the action I wanted him to take: please stop airing the television commercial and remove all photos of the tiger from the firm’s social media sites and marketing materials.
I received no response from anyone at Trial Professionals.
So about a week later, I sent a follow-up email to Mr. Stakelum reiterating my request to stop the commercial and remove the tiger images from their marketing materials. This time, I explained that a large part of Big Cat Rescue’s mission is to end the abuse and exploitation of captive big cats. And that our millions of social media followers rely on us to inform them when we learn about abuse and exploitation of big cats. I explained we would need to let our supporters know that Trial Professionals is exploiting a white tiger and that he was likely to hear from some of them. Our amazing supporters are passionate about the humane treatment of big cats and understand that posing with wild animals is cruel, not cool!
Again, no response from the lawyer or the firm.
So I took the final step. I created an Action Alert and asked Big Cat Rescue’s Facebook supporters to take action by signing our online petition, which would trigger an email to be sent to each lawyer in the firm. We believe it is important for businesses and venues to understand that it’s not just Big Cat Rescue’s opinion that exploiting tigers is cruel; our many supporters who love big cats agree and are willing to speak out for this tiger, who has no voice of his own. You can take action too! Click here to demand action from Trial Professionals.
It’s been a few days since we issued our Action Alert. Still no response from the law firm but we are still hopeful that the firm will do the right thing and not exploit any wild animals in the future.
Tips for taking action and speaking up when YOU see wild cats or other animal being exploited for profit or entertainment:
- Find out when and where the abuse is happening
- Politely reach out to the person, business or venue via phone or email
- Explain that you believe what is happening to the wild animal is abusive or exploitative
- Clearly ask for the action you want to see (event be cancelled, group not allowed to return again, etc.)
- If the situation is happening in your hometown, always state that you are a local citizen (i.e. I live here and won’t be attending our state fair this year if you will be hosting a circus with tigers)
- If you receive no response or the person/venue refuses doesn’t agree to comply with your request, take action. Post about it on your social media pages, call your local media, write a letter to the editor of your newspaper, blog about it, contact USDA and the Fish & Wildlife Service in your state, inform Big Cat Rescue and other animal advocacy groups, organize a protest, etc.
- Learn more about cub petting here.
- Ask your Senators and House Representative to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act currently pending in Congress. Once this crucial bill for big cats becomes law, it will phase out the private ownership of big cats and ban the public from having contact with cubs. Learn more and take action here.